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Austin cop body-slams woman twice, blames black people's “violent tendencies"

A supervisor who reviewed the video didn't see anything wrong with it. The chief of Austin's police says he wants to change the culture that led to that mindset.

by Adam Hamze
Jul 22 2016, 10:25pm

Screen grab from a video provided by the Austin Police Department

In yet another episode of police brutality against black people in America, a dashcam video released Thursday by the Austin Police Department shows an officer body-slamming an African-American woman after dragging her out of her car during a traffic stop for speeding. The officer, Bryan Richter, is white.

The video also reveals a conversation between the woman, an elementary-school teacher named Breaion King, and Richter's partner, Patrick Spraldin, as she sat handcuffed behind him.

"Why are so many people afraid of black people?" Spraldin said. "I can give you a really good idea of why it might be that way — violent tendencies ... That's why a lot of the white people are afraid of them, and I don't blame them."

The video was released more than a year after the incident occurred in June 2015, following an inquiry by the Travis County District Attorney's Office. King was charged with resisting arrest, which was later dropped after an Austin Police Department supervisor reviewed the video. The department allowed Richter to be elude punishment by giving him counseling and additional training as discipline, and no formal investigation was conducted. Spraldin was not punished for his comments. King was fined $165 for speeding.

"It concerns me that an officer has this notion about a whole group of people, a whole community of people, that he hasn't met," King told The Austin-American Statesman. "He didn't know me, and he assumed that about me. If he assumed that about me, who else did he assume this about?"

APD chief Art Acevedo had not seen the video before this week, because the supervisor who reviewed footage of the incident didn't believe it was serious enough to be investigated. Now, Acevedo says he cannot discipline the officers for their actions because a six-month statute of limitations on officer misconduct has elapsed. But, he intends to review their behavior over the past year, to see if similar episodes of violence occurred.

Before APD released the video to the public, Acevedo met with local activists to discuss how officers treated King and how the department planned to respond. The meeting, which both Acevedo and local activists said was productive, helped define approaches to ensure such incidents don't go unnoticed in the future.

"A group of people looked at this video and thought nothing was wrong with it. That's alarming"

Acevedo said he intends to review all instances in which someone is detained for resisting arrest, an oxymoronical charge that many activists say should be unlawful. He also has sought Justice Department training for officers to avoid incidents of bias and profiling.

"For those that think people of color don't have grievances, I want you to watch and listen," Acevedo said at a press conference Thursday. "I've asked my own people to go out and look at these videos, and I want them to ask themselves: 'Am I approaching a 15-mph speeding ticket like that? Am I treating someone like they robbed a bank? Is that how I want my loved ones to be treated when they're in a hurry?"

Tensions between black Austinites and police have risen following a slew of violent incidents, most notably, the killing of David Joseph in March. The 17-year-old was walking naked and unarmed through his neighborhood when officer Geoffrey Freeman, 41, shot and killed him, claiming Joseph charged at him — an allegation that could not be confirmed. Freeman was fired from the police, but a grand jury declined to indict him.

For Chas Moore, co-founder of the Austin Justice Coalition, a local activist group, the body-slamming incident and the immunity afforded to the officers is concerning, but not surprising.

"A group of people looked at this video and thought nothing was wrong with it. That's alarming," Moore said. "It's cops that have the violent tendencies...Any place where we have police departments has become a scary place for black people."

Acevedo's response to the video, and the meeting between officers and activists, has left community members like Moore "still hopeful, but with a cloud of doubt over our heads" that trust between black people and police in the Texas capital can be formed. A community oversight board, de-escalation training, and opportunities for officers to bond with community members outside police work are ways to strive toward healing, he said.

"The scariest part about that video is that we already think cops feel that way about us, but for him to affirm it, that's crazy," Moore said. "If the only time a black person sees a cop is when you get pulled over or beat, it creates a psyche that we have to change."

As the investigation continues, King, who was studying for a master's degree from Texas State University at the time of the arrest, is attempting to put the trauma behind her. Despite the time that has passed, it is not an easy task, she said.

"It has been a year and my desire, regardless of what happened, is to continue to strive to be a better person," King told The Austin-American Statesman, in a tearful interview. "Will I forget? No ma'am. Not at all. But I want to be able to live my life. So for me, will I get better? God's will, yes ma'am I will. We'll be okay."

Follow Adam Hamze on Twitter: @adamhamz.